The word vasl in both Urdu and Persian poetry has rich associations, suggesting a meeting with a beloved that is simultaneously physical and transcendental. Inspired by this philosophy, Vasl Artists’ Association functions as a space and a platform for nurturing creativity and encouraging freedom to create experimental work. Established since 2001 and based in Karachi, Pakistan, the organization is a Not for Profit Company. Vasl is affiliated with the Triangle Network founded in 1982 - a global network of artists and visual arts organizations that support professional development and cultural exchange. In the past 17 years in Pakistan, more than 500 international and local artists have undertaken Vasl residencies, attended workshops and created projects of significance.
Vasl’s programs offer unique resources and spaces:
• Vasl’s facilities include a fully furnished apartment centrally located in Karachi, with a rooftop studio for artist talks and programs. Residents and guests work closely with support and guidance from Vasl’s employees. Vasl’s office is also located at the apartment.
• Vasl consistently runs residency programs throughout the year. Vasl Residencies and Workshops offer space and a supportive platform for art professionals and creative thinkers from across Pakistan and abroad to expand their practice. Key components of our residencies include: access to Vasl studios, city orientation programs, mentoring by established artists, research facilitation, and building networks with Vasl’s community of supporting institutions.
• Vasl’s annual flagship residency, TaazaTareen is focused on nurturing the careers of fresh graduates from Pakistani art institutions. Since 2005, TaazaTareen residencies have supported over 50 artists at this formative stage of their professional life. The Vasl Research Grant is subsequently awarded to an outstanding visual artist selected from the TaazaTareen residency, selected by a panel of established art professionals.
• Vasl’s Educational Outreach programs continue to expand the dialogue on art with diverse communities and localities. The focus on education develops critical thinking about art and its relation to society and includes mentoring workshops for art educators, and enhancing professional skills in the higher education sector. Additionally, Vasl has designed and created manuals and workbooks to help improve art education with both private and governmental institutions.
• Vasl supports research and publications on contemporary art practices through publishing and sponsoring artist books as well as incorporating writers and curators in our residencies. To address the need for documenting the practices of artists, Vasl has produced in-house publications such as our Conversations with Contemporary Pakistani Artists series which bring forth and document emerging Pakistani artists and their dialogues with society.
My association with Vasl Artists’ Association started in 2001 when I joined the organization as a working group member. During these years, Vasl faced multifarious challenge. The organization is based in Karachi – the most populous city of Pakistan with the population nearing 21 million – with a fragile infrastructure and a precarious law and order situation. In order to keep the residency program alive, it was imperative to foment the interchange of experiences and skills between local artists and international artists from other parts of the world. Hosting international residencies was a challenge in the omnipresent violence of the city – woven by sectarian, religious and gang wars fought over control of the city’s resources. Despite this state of political uncertainty, Karachi remained a corner stone of the economy of Pakistan at large and for the art community on a much smaller scale. In the last decade, there has been a curious, perverse flowering of creativity in the city as art and cultural activities have gained momentum – individuals took initiatives, new galleries opened up, remarkable films were produced and collectives flourished.
Vasl’s programs continued through all political and social mayhem of the city, with ingenuity and adaptability. Advance planning, skillful coordination and flexibility kept us ahead of all unforeseen situations in the city. Adversity infused fresh impetus and energy into the then collective. Since 2001, Vasl Artists’ Association has persevered with local and international residencies without a break.
The ownership and belief in Vasl’s support and assistance has made the organization meaningful and dependable for the local and international art community. Opportunities at Vasl or provided by Vasl, are acknowledged by the artists as nurturing creativity and creating prospects for growth. Vasl residencies offer conditions that are conducive to creativity and assist visiting artists with working facilities, connections, educational outreach and most importantly, an audience. The Vasl residential apartment, has come to be regarded as an oasis for artists from different cities of Pakistan and from other countries. Vasl has become a platform for artists, curators and art practitioners to experiment, explore and challenge themselves to discover the new in the ever-changing reality of the country.
As a country, we are at an interesting moment in cultural history in which institutional identities are continually being challenged by experiments from disparate arts. Residencies are an attempt to keep open these spaces of creativity, without referring them to an already established role. Every year, Vasl receives a mounting number of applications for its programs and residencies. Since 2001, over 500 international artists have been part of Vasl projects.
Over the years, Vasl has forged a series of national and international partnerships, alliances, friendships and dialogues that have been pivotal to its development and sustenance. No artist-in-residence program is the same. Each program or guest studio, large or small, established or experimental, has its own background and atmosphere. In each one of them what remains constant is the shared learning, exchange of ideas and learning from each other’s mistakes and most importantly, forming networks. Friendships have been formed through meaningful projects and collaborations have happened across continents.
By Adeela Suleman, Director and Founding Member ofVasl Artists’ Association.
This excerpt was originally published in the Foreword for Vasl Artists’ Association’s 2007 – 2014 catalog.
Although the artist community of Pakistan is small in numbers, there is much fragmentation within this circle and little outreach to the wider Pakistani society. Thissidelines opportunities to build progressive relationships to help improve the art environment. Therefore many of Vasl’s projects aim to create ties with communities for building future programs that include art and sustainability.
Vaslhosted one of Pakistan’s earliest residency programmes in January 2001, a two-week long artists’ workshop held on the shores of Gadani, a ship breaking yard in Balochistan. By bringing together international artists and steering local Pakistani artists away from the metropolis, this workshop laid the foundation of Vasl’s programs and highlighted the need to create work beyond the parameters of the gallery and the art institutions in Pakistan. It was art historian and professor, IftikharDadi who after returning from a workshop in Delhi in 1997 convinced Vasl’s founding member and internationally recognized artist, Naiza Khan about the need for setting up a space for artists in Pakistan. In a remote area such as Gadani, the artists inevitably spent more time getting to know each other and optimized on available materials from within the ship breaking yard. Vasl has since worked with around 500 international and local artists who have been part of various residencies and have undertaken multiple artistic projects.
Our residencies and workshops bring both Pakistani and International artists to marginalized areas such as Orangi Town and Lyari, allowing community members to develop an understanding of contemporary art. These interactions benefit international artists immensely as their perspective of Pakistani society is widened. From 2016 to 2018, Vasl conducted workshops designed as part of the project ‘TakhleqiSalayat’ ( for 300 teachers from Orangi Town, in collaboration with OPP-RTI (Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute). These workshops placed emphasis on improving their skills and in cooperating critical thinking in their curriculums and teaching. Moreover Vasl’s international resident artists from the U.K. and Singapore were brought to OPP-RTI to conduct specific workshops as part of the curriculum.
Sandouq Mein Art (Art in a Suitcase) 2012 to 2014 is anotherexample which allowed art to proliferate into communities. A collaboration between Hareep Pakistan and Vasl Artists’ Association, the project was conducted in northern areas of Pakistan, in schools with limited exposure to art education. A particular feature of these workshops was a ‘Sandouq’ or suitcase carrying miniature paintings to small sculptures to create awareness of different art disciplines. This project included methods of mapping and drawing religious and cultural landmarks, to highlight peace and conflict resolution within the minds of young children.
As Vasl falls under the Triangle Network, an international umbrella of organizations and art professionals, we are able to bring new and unique forms of art, experienced curators and established academics to the Pakistan. Much of our exchange with Triangle Network has benefitted art students and art enthusiasts by giving them the opportunity to meet new exciting people and speak to them about their work.Almost all of our foreign resident artists work closely with students, local artists, curators and researchers.
As of 2018, Vasl has formed a board of diverse individuals who are continuously helpingVasl pave its’ way towards the years to come:Nadeem Khalid, Board of Directors for Vasl Artists’ Association and CEO at Herbion Pakistan;KhurramKasim, Chairperson of the Vasl Board, founder of the KhurramKasim Art Foundation (KKAF) and member of the Board of Directors at the Hasham Group, Karachi, Pakistan; Duraid QureshiCEO & co-founder HUM Network Ltd, Karachi, Pakistan; Dr. IftikharDadiAssociate Professor in the Department of History of Art, Cornell University, USA; Dr. Kamran Asdar Ali Dean of the Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, USA; Dr. Mikala Tai, Director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, Australia; Rosa Maria Falvo, independent writer and curator, specializing in Asia Paciific and Middle Eastern contemporary art. Contributing Editor at SKIRA, Milan, Italy.Our board has brought individual expertise and advice to Vasl, extending our collaborations and creativity. The key for survival as an arts organization in a country such as Pakistan is to build close ties with other organizations and create diversify projects which are inclusive. We have seen multiple initiatives develop such as the Murree Museum Artist Residency, SanatIntiative Residency program and Canvas Gallery’s Residency collaborations which will surely give way to many more platforms that enable artists to create freely. With an increasing number of established Pakistani artists recognizing their responsibility to contribute and nurture art, we are hopeful that all these efforts will inspire the art community to work together for a stable yet exciting future.
Since 2001, a cohort of supporters, sponsors and volunteers have enabled Vasl’s continuity and progress. We are extremely grateful to our friends and fellow artists who have encouraged us to continue through difficult times and have extended their generosity to us.
Naila Mahmood, Director and Founding Member of Vasl Artists’ Association
Veera Rustomji, Project Coordinator at Vasl Artists’ Association